Growing up in family full of musicians and owning her first (teeny!) violin aged just three, a career in music was always on the cards for Izzy Judd.
She’s come a long way since then, reaching the final of the second series of Britain’s Got Talent as one quarter of electronic string quartet Escala, playing on McFly’s Wonderland tour, where she met now husband Harry and, inspired by her wedding, founding Serene Strings, a string quartet that provides classical, jazz and pop music for weddings and events. She’s also totally nailing social media with Twitter and Instagram feeds that are full of inspiring messages, cute couple shots with Harry and plenty of pics of cats Morris and Murphy.
Read on to find out more about Izzy’s career path and her advice for making a career change, creating a new business and conquering nerves (remember, this is someone who’s performed in front of Simon Cowell!).
When did you first pick up a violin?
When I was about three my parents gave me a tiny violin so I could join in with my brothers when they were playing. I come from a family of musicians, so growing up playing an instrument was as normal to me as brushing my teeth! There was always music playing in our house and being the youngest of four children I couldn’t wait to start learning the violin so I could be just like my brothers. My parents run a music school in Hertfordshire called Musicale, their work ethic and passion for business is inspiring. They always said to us ‘make it happen.’
Was there ever another career ambition?
I always loved to perform whether that was music, dancing or acting. I felt very at home on stage so when I was 10 I joined the Sylvia Young Agency. During my childhood my evenings were spent at music lessons or dance lessons, which I loved. When I was 12 my eldest brother Rupert tragically suffered a serious head injury as a result of a road traffic accident. As you can imagine our family’s life was turned upside down and overnight life changed. As my other two brothers were studying at Chethams School of Music in Manchester it made sense for me to go and join them. My focus there was the violin so I stopped my dancing and acting. Little did I know at that point that my love for the stage was still waiting around the corner for me in a classical crossover career.
What was your career path, and how did Escala form?
The violin became my career path and during my first year studying in London at the Royal Academy of Music my mum saw an advert in the paper to audition for a new classical crossover group called Wild. It was in this band that I met my best friend Chantal and together we went on to be two quarters of Escala. In 2005 we were invited to be a part of an orchestra for McFly’s Wonderland Tour, it goes without saying that this tour was the start of something very special, not only did Chantal and I meet the other two members of Escala but I also met my future husband Harry!
Being on Britain’s Got Talent and going all the way to the final must have been an amazing experience, what are your favourite memories from that time?
Britain’s Got Talent feels like a very surreal memory now! We never imagined we would reach the finals, let alone be signed by Simon Cowell’s record label SYCO. It was an amazing opportunity, recording our dream album with Trevor Horn and performing all over the world. It always felt electric being on stage performing with your three best friends. A highlight was performing Live And Let Die at a James Bond premiere in Leicester Square and our performance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in America. I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of Escala and will cherish the happy memories and endless laughter in the dressing room when it was just the four of us!
Was leaving the band a difficult decision?
I left Escala in 2011. It felt like the right time for me to move on. If I’m honest I never found the travelling and being away from home that easy. With Harry in a similar career I was happy to be the one at home keeping some sort of normality and routine. After six great years in Escala I’d achieved more than I could have dreamed of and felt very lucky to have been a part of something so awesome! The toughest part was telling my bandmates, it was like breaking up with someone three times.
What advice would you give to RMS readers who are considering leaving a job or changing career?
If I was to give anyone advice about changing career, or leaving a job, it would be to stay true to yourself. I found personally that taking control of my life gave me great confidence and happiness.
How did Serene Strings come about?
In the months after I left Escala Harry and I got engaged and the beautiful task of planning our wedding began. I absolutely loved every second of it. I lived on Rock My Wedding for inspiration, dress envy and research for suppliers. It was actually there that I came across Lucy Ledger who went on to design the Serene Strings website. In those months I didn’t play my violin at all and began to really miss it and I started to think about how I could create a business that would involve my experience in music and planning. Having loved being a bride myself I thought how lovely it would be to provide a string quartet for weddings and events. I was absolutely inspired as a result of being a bride to set up a business in the wedding industry, it’s just a very happy place to be!
What can a couple booking Serene Strings expect?
Serene Strings is a string quartet that provides beautiful music for special occasions. It is made up of a small group of professional musicians from all around the country who come from very prestigious and busy careers in the music industry. I don’t personally play at all the weddings but I organise each event. I love nothing more than to talk through a couple’s plans for their wedding day as I understand how important every detail is. I hope to offer a very bespoke service for each client’s needs. Serene Strings has a selection of classical, pop and jazz music in our repertoire that all musicians have performed many times. I can also organise for a piece of music to be arranged specially for the quartet. At my own wedding we had the Beach Boys ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ as it meant something personal to Harry and me, it is one of the happiest memories from our wedding day. My motto for Serene Strings is, ‘Where words fail, music speaks.’
How does it differ from being in Escala?
Life in Escala was very exciting but also very unpredictable as we never knew where we would be flying to next! I really enjoy the stability Serene Strings brings and also being responsible for my own decisions. Learning a musical instrument gives you many life skills such as discipline, working as a group and communication but, most importantly, if you work hard at something you can achieve great things, which is extremely rewarding. These foundations have certainly been very useful tools to have when setting up a business.
What’s the best thing about running Serene Strings?
I love being able to take Serene Strings work with me wherever I go. When I’m away with Harry on tour I give my business cards to all the hotels we stay at. I’ve found a lot of my business comes from word of mouth, social media and just talking to people and I use every opportunity to tell people what I do. Serene Strings is only a few months old so I’m learning all the time. Each wedding is so unique and beautiful. If we’re playing in the service I like to watch the groom’s expression as the bride walks up the aisle. I’m a hopeless romantic and would ideally like to live in a Richard Curtis film!
Do you get nervous when you perform?
I’ve performed all my life and so getting used to nerves has been part of the job. At very nerve-racking concerts I try to channel the nerves as positively as I can and use them to improve my performance. I always try to remember that it is very normal to feel nervous and part of being a performer. Having said that I have my violin to hide behind, if I ever have to speak in public I try to remember to keep breathing and take my time. When we’re nervous we tend to talk/play faster.
How do you and Harry deal with being apart, when one of you is touring, for example?
I’m very lucky that I have a job I can take away with me. Harry and I prefer to be together so I usually go away with him and take my work with me. Neither of us particularly enjoys being apart so we tend to just stick together! I’ve been so lucky to have travelled all over with Harry, most recently to Australia which was amazing. Having said that in the early days of our relationship I couldn’t always go, but being a musician myself there has always been a mutual understanding about what life is like on the road. I’ve always accepted Harry’s career and admire McFly for having maintained a successful career for over 10 years. That’s pretty impressive in the pop industry and I will do everything I can to support him.
What are your favourite ways to relax and destress?
There is nothing I love more than to be at home with Harry and our two ragdoll cats Morris and Murphy. We both enjoy a healthy lifestyle and I find cooking very relaxing. Nutrition is something that I’m very interested in, I’m not quite as into my fitness as Harry but I do like to keep fit. I would prefer a swim or a yoga class than running into a sweat. Any exercise that can be done quickly and effectively keeps me happy, so a 30 minute HIIT session is as far as I go.
I couldn’t help but spot you hanging out and working out with Ellie Goulding on your Instagram feed…
Ellie is on another level of fitness, when we are on tour with the boys she usually trains with Harry as they are crazy fit, I can’t keep up!
Can you tell us more about the Eyes Alight Appeal, the charity you set up?
I set up the Eyes Alight Appeal in 2011 as part of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust. My brother Rupert has been living in a BIRT home for the last 12 years. He needs full time care and without BIRT this wouldn’t be possible. I wanted to do something to give back and support other people like my brother, who have serious needs as a result of a head injury. The Eyes Alight Appeal aims to give many wishes to those people going through long-term brain injury rehabilitation. So far we’ve raised £180,000 and with that we have made many ‘Eyes Alight.’
One of my favourite wishes was for a man who before suffering a head injury loved his vegetable garden. Eyes Alight funded a vegetable patch on his private patio and now, having previously never left his room, he takes the vegetables he grows to the kitchen to be cooked for the rest of the residents in the home. This wish has also aided his rehabilitation as he is now integrating back with the other residents.
My brother was and still is an amazing French horn player studying at the Guildhall School of Music when he had his car accident. Eyes Alight has provided Rupert’s carer with a car so that he can be taken to horn lessons and weekly wind band rehearsals. The idea of Eyes Alight is to enhance the life of people like Rupert and give them the chance to fulfil the hopes and dreams they had before tragically suffering head injuries. You can watch Rupert’s Story here.
Harry has been an absolutely amazing support to Eyes Alight having run marathons and appearing on various TV shows to raise funds and awareness. He is Rupert’s best friend and his love has helped me come to terms with accepting Rupert for who he is today, a wonderful brother who lights up any room and will forever be my brightest star.
Name | Izzy Judd
Occupation | Former member of Escala and founder of Serene Strings
Lives | London
Studied | Violin